A Random Collection of Experiences in India
When a 12 hour overnight bus ride turned into a 16 hour bus ride after breaking down on the side of the road in the middle of the night for 3 hours, with no A/C, cooking us like sardines, we decided we needed to find an alternative mode of travel. So we got back on motorcycles. This time, I wasn’t screwing around with what Tones called a “toy bike”. I rented a Royal Enfield for the 8 day tour of Goa we had planned.
I don’t think many people in America know about Royal Enfields. They’re a leftover from the days of British rule of India. Basically, they’re India’s version of the Harley Davidson. However, in true British and Indian style, they’re a bit more subtle than the garish Harley. Although a little quieter than a Harley, they still have a beastly growl. Although more understated, the lines and design will look a lot like a Harley to those who don’t know Harleys well (aka me).
And let me tell you, this decision was a great one. While Geraldine rented the same Honda we rode around Vietnam, my bike gets attention. I get nods of respect from random people on the road. When we arrived in Agonda and walked into a guesthouse, the owner looked at me and exclaimed, “the man with the Bullet!” (Bullet is the nickname for Royal Enfields).
Riding through India has been a blast. The traffic has been every bit as crazy as Vietnam and I’m thankful we already have experience behind the handlebars. But you still have to be careful. You never know when you will round the corner and find 2 oncoming trucks overtaking each other, along with 3 cows standing in your way. We have both been run completely off the road by trucks overtaking each other, and when I flipped the oncoming truck driver the bird, he just smiled at me and kept barreling towards a head on collision he knew he would win. Worse yet, you never know when the random pig will cross the road. Unlike cows, trucks, and dogs, pigs don’t seem to react to horns, even the mighty blast of a Royal Enfield horn.
But the lesson we learned in Vietnam holds true. The best way to experience a country is by motorcycle. Every kilometer requires concentration. You can stop in places the bus whizzes through and the plane doesn’t even show you. When the bumpy pavement is 6 inches from your feet, you twist the throttle, and the bike rattles like a massage chair, you can scream as loud as you want and nobody hears you. There’s an exhilaration that a car simply can’t provide.
As I said, I always thought that people on Harleys were idiots that are too easily amused by the ability to make a lot of noise. Day by day I creep closer to becoming one of those idiots. Just goes to show you to be careful about stereotypes. As my Grandpa Jack always says, don’t knock something until you try it.
India is not a drinking country. While alcohol is available, it’s only sold in wine stores, and in some places, there are no wine stores. Whenever a substance is pushed underground, it leads to shady situations. India is no exception. Attached to most wine stores is a little side room where people can drink. And drink they do, in an abusive way.
When we arrived in Mumbai, we decided to go out and buy a beer before meeting up with friends. The wine store was down an alley which was packed with Indian men. We made our way to the window and lined up to buy a beer. In front of us, we watched an Indian man buy a small bottle of whiskey, pick it up, and put it down empty. It was quite a feat of drinking. In true Indian style, he tossed the empty bottle into the gutter like it was no big deal, and walked out. We realized this style of drinking was not an exception, it was the norm.
We purchased our beer and proceded to hang out in the alley and drink it. It was quite obvious that we were the only white people, and Geraldine was the only woman. Soon a man cleared the alley in a rush. As we walked out on to the street, we noticed the police were arriving with a paddy wagon. Somebody had clearly paid the cops to be informed of the police before they arrived. All we could do was laugh at the absurdity and marvel at the bad social effects that come when substances are pushed underground instead of dealt with in a way that minimizes harm.
Later in Goa, we met a guy from Mumbai and told him our alley drinking story. He told us that we were lucky. He said that often, those alley drinking crowds erupt into fights. My first thought was that was an obvious outcome of a bunch of guys drinking heavily and quickly in a confined space with no women to talk to. If you put that crowd in a bar, and add women, things would be fine. But instead, you get a bunch of drunk dudes fighting. Always beware of the dangers of a sausage party.
Later, in Gokarna, I went to a wine store to buy a beer to take home. I looked next to the store and saw a dark, dank tent. You could hardly notice it unless you were looking for it. Never one to pass up a cultural experience, I figured I should have a beer in the tent. You know, for the experience, right? What a depressing place. There were about 10 Indian men, talking quietly, drinking quickly. It was old man’s drinking. Cheap whiskey. No ice. No mixer. Just sit down, throw it back, and leave. One bare lightbulb barely lit the place. Two ceiling fans spun slowly, seemingly ready to detach from their mounts at any moment. I drank my beer and got out of there. It was like the Indian version of an opium den. It was pretty sad. But it was an experience. That’s for sure.
Seeing a Bollywood Movie
After an awesome night out with our friend Sumo in Mumbai, we were in no shape for sightseeing. Instead, we decided that 3 hours in an air conditioned movie theater sounded like a marvelous way to spend the afternoon. The only problem was that all the Bollywood movies being shown were in Hindi. But our friends had told us that all the important plot points are spoken in English, and that Bollywood movies are simple enough to follow even if you don’t understand a word being spoken. With those reassurances, we headed off to see the 3pm showing of Student of the Year.
We figured we would have the theater to ourselves, but we were wrong. The whole place was packed with local high school students. It turns out that we went to watch a Bollywood movie that was targeted at 14 year old girls. I expected a cheesy movie, but the cheese rating of this movie was through the roof. There were more scenes of half naked dudes than I’ve ever seen. And sadly for me, the female love interest was fat and pear shaped. They tried to hide it using some well placed sarongs, but inevitably, I got a flash of paneer (cottage cheese) on her thighs.
But despite this fact, the movie was thoroughly entertaining! I’m not gonna lie. The overdramatic dance scenes were so riduculous that you could only laugh. Glancing to the girls sitting next to me was eminently entertaining, since they absolutely lost their minds when the male love interest would rise from the pool, abs glistening with water. Their nervous giggling was only interuppted by their nonstop text messaging on their phones throughout the movie. It was like going to a Brad Pitt movie with Geraldine!
As the plot came to an end, the screen came up and told us it was time for an intermission. After an hour and a half, we were only half way through! I could hardly hold back my excitement. “Geraldine, who’s going to win? The evil guy/girl combo, or the good guy/girl combo? I can’t wait to see!”
Now, I realize Student of the Year is not the movie by which I should judge Bollywood. It’s the Bollywood equivalent of Twilight. But it made me wonder. Does Bollywood’s dependence on dancing scenes doom it to always be cheesy? Seriously, could Bollywood ever produce a movie on the level of The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather Part II, or The Sixth Sense? Is there such a thing as a Bollywood horror movie? Or a Bollywood twist ending? Could you ever imagine how quickly a dramatic movie like Saving Private Ryan would be ruined by any kind of dance scene?
I asked a friend, and they told me that they do have movies like that, however, they’re just copies of the famous Hollywood movies. So they’re not exactly original.
If anybody knows of any Bollywood movies that avoid dance scenes in exchange for quality acting and dramatic plots, please let me know in the comments section. I’d love to watch one.